Sunday, May 17, 2009

Joining a new class, and course matching issues for exchanges

As I was writing this entry last week I fell asleep on my keyboard. Total failure! Now let's try again :)

So I have just completed two weeks with my new class, the Mechatronics '11. People there are all very friendly and I don't feel alienated at all. I'm even going to karaoke with some of my new classmates tomorrow!

Although I am now officially in 4th year, I am joining the 3rd year Mechatronics class for the spring term... and I get quite a few confused looks because of this. Actually, the reason why I'm joining a younger class is because I am making up for some courses that I have missed while being on exchange.

Since all students of the same class from Waterloo engineering usually share the same schedule, many complain that Waterloo's system is not flexible, when in fact that's not true at all. I have found that the class schedules are more of a "recommendation" than anything, and if you have good reasons to deviate from it, the academic advisors are more than willing to accomodate you. In fact, when I proposed my plan for a change of study stream and a second exchange to my program director, I was actually surprised as how easily it had gotten approved. I've found that as long as you have done your research, know exactly what you're doing and can find valid arguments as to why your plans should be approved, the advisors are usually very reasonable and gives you a lot of freedom with your classes. I know people who have switched study streams, taking double majors, taken two one-year work terms, extended their degree for a year for no big reason, etc. so I guess it's not uncommon to change your course plan in Waterloo at all.

The next thing I want to blog about, now, is the sacrifices you have to make to go on exchanges and such. I don't want to talk purely about one side of things, or to rave about all the good things of exchanges without mentioning the bad side.

First, going on exchange requires a lot of planning, paperwork and meetings with advisors. You have to be on top of your own things, choose your courses wisely, get them approved, prepare back-up plans, etc. both before and after the exchange. You cannot sit on your bum and expect your advisors to tell you everything you need to know; you'll have to do your own research, and schedule meetings with profs yourself. I have a friend who didn't consult his advisor after his exchange, and ended up having to stay for an extra term to make up a course he did not get credited for. It's a lot of work and it gobbles up a lot of time, but you'll know it's worth it once you step on your plane.

Then there's the course plan issue. Many students have messaged me about going on exchanges and many of them have been scared off because of the course matching problems I've had (4 out of my 5 courses couldn't get transferred). Having to make up for courses is not an uncommon issue for exchange students, but since courses taken abroad can be counted as "technical electives", most don't have to lengthen their degree and have no problem graduating in time. Sure, right now I am giving up my last work term because of my exchanges, but considering that I am doing TWO exchanges plus a minor in psychology (which requires 10 extra courses) and STILL graduating in time, it's really more than worth it. Plus, now I get to join other classes and meet new friends!

So the bottom line is, no pain no gain... Lame, I know, but it's so true! Going abroad and exploring a new country with friends from all over the world is an amazing experience, but if you're gonna have to work for it to deserve it! ;)


  1. WOW! that is amazing!! you went on two exchanges and minored in psychology?! wow! Many people have told me that it is almost impossible to have a minor with Waterloo Univeristy's Engineering program! How was it? Is it as hard as people say? How were you able to accomplish this?

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